Tuesday, April 13, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and best wishes for those of you who begin to celebrate Ramadan tonight!
Ironically, today is also “Equal Pay Day” and “Be Kind to Lawyers Day” – but I don’t think many in Sudbury will be “feeling” it. Yesterday 100+ Laurentian faculty and staff were called into group Zoom meetings and fired, and we got more details about the 69 programs cut at Senate last week.
I honestly can’t turn away from Laurentian to other news right now, but I will try to put it into a larger context, to explain why I think this has implications for the future of higher education broadly, and not merely one union local. And why I think Laurentian will be PAYING for this short-term “win” for years and years to come.
On a bit less bleak note, in response to a reader question, I’ll sum up the current state of discussion about making vaccination mandatory on campuses this fall, and share a Lego video about vaccine misinformation to boot, ICYMI…
Yesterday was, as I said, the day that pink slips hit inboxes at Laurentian, and the scope of the insolvency damage started to become public. (To add insult to injury, of course, yesterday we heard that Ottawa plans to offer a “multi-billion-dollar relief package” to corporate airline, Air Canada. Don’t get me started on THEM…)
Here’s what detail I’ve been able to uncover about Laurentian so far…
69 Programs Closed
Laurentian is closing 35% of its undergrad programs (58 = 34 English and 24 French) and 25% of its grad programs (or 11), which it reports have had “historically low enrolment” and will affect only 10% of undergrad students and a total of 44 grad students. “Laurentian 2.0” will go from 209 programs to just 140. As feared, many of the discontinued programs are Arts & Humanities (Anthropology, Music, Philosophy, Political Science), Modern Languages (Italian, Spanish), geosciences (Ecology, Environmental Science, Geography), but also some STEM disciplines (Mathematics, Biomedical Physics, Physics) and professional programs (concurrent Education, Midwifery). Master’s programs in History, Sociology, Humanities and Physics were also cut, as were joint degrees in Nursing (with Collège Boréal) and Radiation Therapy (with Michener Institute). And finally, perhaps it’s not surprising that Labour Studies also got the axe. Laurentian
100+ Job Cuts
CBC reports a total of 100 professors were dismissed in group Zoom calls yesterday. (Laurentian has 375 full-time and 250-300 part-time faculty, so that represents a cut of at least 15%.) President Robert Haché wrote staff and faculty yesterday that “today we provided end of employment notice to our faculty and staff of upcoming reductions. Some of our colleagues will be leaving us at the end of April 2021, and some in May 2021.” The FAQs indicate that “we anticipate that all affected faculty and staff will be notified on Monday, April 12” – so perhaps no further cuts are anticipated. Laurentian
“Today was a difficult day and we recognize that. All of our faculty and staff are part of the fabric of Laurentian, and these changes will require a period of profound adjustment.” – Robert Haché, president, Laurentian U
“This isn’t a restructuring. This is a bloodbath.” – Christian Pelletier, Art Director, Studio123
Faculty Union Outrage
Brenda Austin-Smith, president of CAUT, wrote yesterday in the Sudbury Star that Laurentian’s CCAA move was “a breath-taking betrayal of students, faculty, and staff,” and “a shocking display of contempt for collective agreements bargained in good faith.” She adds that the administration’s attempt to shift blame onto largely contract faculty is “dishonest”: “part-time teachers are not breaking the bank. Nowhere close.” Sudbury Star
“Let’s make no mistake. Management by the board and senior administration at Laurentian was outrageously bad.” – Brenda Austin-Smith, president of CAUT
“Faculty knew that the board of governors was notoriously resistant to reporting financial details. But without giving any notice to anyone, and in a shocking display of contempt for collective agreements bargained in good faith to protect the workplace rights of staff, the Laurentian board decided to downplay its status as a public institution.” – Brenda Austin-Smith, president of CAUT
“Administrations have never been the heart of a university or college. They are not the people engaged in the core mission of post-secondary education. Nor are administrations usually directly harmed by the reckless decisions they make. It is academic staff, support staff, and students who feel the first shock, who could lose their jobs, benefits, and degrees.” – Brenda Austin-Smith, president of CAUT
Today, faculty are being asked to vote on a new collective agreement. And like the Senate vote on program cuts last week, they are being told that they need to approve it by Apr 30, or the university will cease to operate and they will all be out of a job. (I’m no lawyer, but it’s hard to imagine how this can be in keeping with the spirit of labour laws.) FAQs
Indigenous Studies Gone
Unfortunately, the national outcry to preserve uSudbury’s Indigenous Studies program clearly wasn’t misguided. Unlike Huntington’s Gerontology program, which “will be taught through Laurentian and housed within the Faculty of Arts,” clearly uSudbury’s program is not going to be preserved. The FAQs say LU is developing a new “Indigenous Perspectives” program, and that “all 150 students who were enrolled in the Indigenous Studies program through the University of Sudbury will have access to courses rooted in Indigenous perspectives already offered through Laurentian’s Faculty of Arts, in disciplines ranging from History, English, Psychology, and Sociology.” FAQs
uSudbury Disputes the Math
LU claims that the 3 federated universities cost it $5M annually, but uSudbury president John Meehan wrote The Catholic Register to dispute Haché’s math. “The assumption is that feds don’t have the right to teach or to have residences… Students will wind up with less choice under a new monopoly situation controlled by Laurentian.” uSudbury has indicated it may become a unilingual independent francophone institution. Sudbury Star
NOSM is Safe
Many of Laurentian’s CCAA FAQs were updated yesterday, and now indicate that the Northern Ontario School of Medicine “is a separate entity from Laurentian and is not party to the CCAA proceedings.” (Let’s hope that’s true.) FAQs
What’s Left to Come?
Laurentian’s FAQs summarize 5 priorities in the CCAA process, including the program review (done) and “re-evaluating the Federated Universities model” (which appears done like dinner). #3 is “reducing… unsustainable expenses, primarily in salaries,” which has certainly started to be addressed through the retirement “incentives” and the elimination of programs, but more could be yet to come. (Salary rollbacks? Staff downsizing? Cutting some of that “Sunshine list”?) Priority #4 is “creating new opportunities for revenue generation,” which could involve asset sales (perhaps selling off some campus lands, or selling the land beneath the federated universities?) or research income (more intense commercialization, or renegotiating IP with faculty researchers?) Maybe they’ll just hike ancillary fees (parking, housing, dining, etc). Finally, priority #5 is “considering all options to address current and long-term indebtedness,” which could just be an allusion to land sales, a government bailout, or perhaps unconventional financial arrangements (a bond issue? campus sale and leaseback? naming rights? lotto tickets?) FAQs
We may get a bit more information about what the new collective agreement contains, or what the banks negotiate in the CCAA process, over the next couple of weeks. I’ll keep my eyes open and keep you informed!
As a general rule, you may notice I completely ignore labour negotiations in the Insider – and I even wrote it into the editorial policies at the Academica Top Ten, almost 20 years ago. There’s plenty of incendiary rhetoric, minor nickel and diming, and as a rule nothing that transforms higher education as a sector, beyond the campus in question. But the Laurentian situation is different…
Laurentian’s financial situation was challenging, but not necessarily more than many other institutions. All institutions carry substantial capital debt on campus construction projects, and amortized over decades it seldom prompts then to declare insolvency. I have yet to meet with an institution that doesn’t wrestle with the budget implications of program renewal and sunsetting, with undersubscribed programs or aging tenured faculty. Normally, senior administration works with senate and deans to suspend or phase out programs, redirect faculty to new interdisciplinary focus, or incentivize retirements strategically. If they need more financial “runway,” institutions sell or lease real estate holdings, renegotiate mortgages, launch fundraising campaigns, or tap into their endowments. I still find it very difficult to believe that Laurentian had no other alternative than filing for creditor protection. Declaring insolvency was a choice, and one that appears to set a precedent for public CdnPSE.
Leveraging Court Protection
More than protecting it from creditors, CCAA proceedings seem to have protected Laurentian from transparency. LU seems to be threatening insiders with prosecution, fines, and even jail time if they reveal any of the restructuring plans before the proposal is put before its creditors in court. (Does RBC really care if people know what programs are cut before it does?) LU seems to have set an arbitrary Apr 30 deadline for the proceedings, too, to force senate to sign off on restructuring, and the faculty association to sign a new collective agreement, without time for debate or negotiation. (You can’t tell me that the creditors wouldn’t give a public university an extra month or two grace. Or that the letters sealed by the court don’t include some discussion of MCU providing immediate cash flow.) CCAA proceedings seem to have given the court and the creditors unlimited power to rewrite collective agreements, override academic self-governance, and of course tear uplongstanding legal contracts…
I’m not privy to the nature of all the discussions that LU and its federated colleges have had over recent years, but the parties must have been very far apart indeed to be completely unable to negotiate something short of a “shotgun divorce,” in which one party unilaterally pulls the trigger and burns the house down on the other. From the outside, it looks downright evil for Laurentian to summarily withdraw credit recognition and government funding from its 3 founding institutions, after 60 years, with only one month’s notice. (Those affiliation agreements at Western include provision for 3 academic years’ notice, which at least gives time for a graceful teach-out of students, wind-down of operations, or negotiation with government for an independent path forward.) I’m certainly not surprised that Thorneloe is taking LU to court, and they might even have a good case. (Again, I’m no lawyer.)
I reported yesterday on the unilateral decision of Sheridan College’s board of governors to disband their senate, and while you could make the case that a community college shouldn’t have such a governing body, the same cannot be said of a public university. But Laurentian’s board has found a way around their senate, almost as effectively as Sheridan did, by thrusting the institution into a legal and financial emergency in which bicameral governance ceases to exist. Although, normally, senate has final authority over academic decisions, LU administration claims that once CCAA proceedings began, only the board and the courts matter. I have no doubt that many administrators wish they could implement radical change in just 3 months, the way that Laurentian has done – but that short-term “win” comes at a massive long-term cost…
Laurentian is Branded
There can be little doubt that Laurentian’s insolvency will have massive, lasting negative repercussions on the institution’s reputation and credibility. Citizens of Sudbury will be saddened, hurt and wary about the economic impact of hundreds of job cuts. Remaining staff and faculty will be anxious, traumatized, and perhaps even resentful. Vendors will be unwilling to work with a client who left them high and dry. Donorswill be outraged at losing their donations. (The FAQ page includes some telling language about the difference between donations made before or after Dec 2020.) Research councils and granting agencies are likely debating the wisdom of funding projects at an institution under court protection. The Francophone and Indigenous communities have made it clear that they are outraged at the closure of the federated colleges and their historic programs. I’d be very surprised if CAUT doesn’t censure Laurentian, discouraging reputable faculty from accepting research, teaching, or even speaking opportunities there. What will national and international research partners make of LU going forward? And of course, students will be reluctant to enroll when their programs could evaporate. When York U experienced a lengthy faculty strike, student applications and enrolments sagged for 5 years thereafter; the very public implosion of Laurentian will likely have a much longer-lasting effect on applicants than a mere strike.
In the end, Laurentian may have found a “quick and easy” way out of onerous obligations to its founding federated universities, senate-approved programs, tenured faculty and collective agreements. But they will be paying the price, reputationally, for at least a decade. For 10 years, I was involved in fielding provincewide surveys of university applicants and their perceptions of institutional reputation, and those metrics budged ever so slightly year over year. I’d wager that this year, though, perceptions of Laurentian’s reputation for academic quality, for student experience, for quality faculty, for financial supports, for student services – allwill drop abruptly and decisively. To survive the fallout of insolvency, LU is going to need substantial government support to weather some rough seas ahead.
Although obviously the legal and political context is different, the debate over mandatory vaccinations on US college campuses can be instructive…
Mandatory at 14 US Colleges
Last week I summed up announcements from 11 US colleges that will require vaccinations for students to return to campus this fall, including Rutgers (NJ), Notre Dame (IN), Cornell U (NY), and Brown U (RI). Since then, they have been joined by Boston U (MA), Duke U (NC), and Cleveland State U (for students in residence).
Boston U president Robert Brown explained, “Our goal is to move to a ‘new normal’ in the fall that includes only minimal social distancing, where all our facilities are open, students can move freely between residences, and guests are welcome. The key to achieving this state will be vaccination of nearly everyone in our community, especially our students.” BU is assessing how to treat international students who have been immunized with vaccines not yet approved by US regulators. Boston Globe
Legal & Political Obstacles
While it’s not unusual for schools or colleges to require students be vaccinated for a range of diseases like measles and mumps – and in California, even for a flu shot – COVID19 vaccines are currently in a “legal gray area,” according to some US colleges. Virginia Tech has determined it cannot legally require students to get a vaccine that has only “emergency use authorization” from the FDA. (On the other hand, a Harvard Law expert in bioethics says it makes no difference.) Republican governors in Florida and Texas have banned all businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination, and some campus Republican student groups have opposed vaccine mandates. Dickinson State U (ND) is incentivizing students by exempting them from a mask mandate once they are fully immunized. Most institutions admit that they will have to make some exceptions for students on medical or religious grounds. AP
More Legal Nuance
Dorit Reiss, a law prof at UC Hastings in San Francisco, explains that universities have the power to require vaccines, but that it depends on precedent and what their policies have been in the past. And beyond federal legislation, colleges need to comply with state laws and regulations about their own authority. Private colleges may find it easier than public ones to create a vaccine requirement. The legality of vaccine mandates “has been challenged and upheld for nearly a century,” like a court ruling that uCalifornia could demand smallpox vaccinations in 1925. While the EUA might pose a complication, the FDA could conceivably grant full approval to one or more vaccines by this summer. It might be sufficient for institutions to offer an online alternative for students who refuse to be vaccinated. NPR
Here’s what I’ve seen in CdnPSE so far:
Brock U provost Lynne Wells wrote Apr 7 that she has been asked about whether vaccinations would be required to attend campus. “This question has significant legal implications and has been the topic of much conversation across universities and colleges in the sector. At present, there is no clear answer to this question. As we have been doing over the past year, we will continue to make informed decisions by seeking expert advice and partnering with other institutions in our sector to share information and key considerations. I will provide more information if we decide to revisit the issue at a later date.” Brock
Meanwhile, a Red River College grad is working to fight vaccine misinformation…
Lego My Vaccine
Tyler Walsh has brought together a panel of “Lego experts,” including Anthony Fauci and Theresa Tam, to dismiss some common vaccine misinformation in this 3-min stop-motion newscast. “Do you remember what your Aunt Linda said on the family Zoom call on Thanksgiving?” Some brilliant costuming and makeup on those Lego characters. (Walsh’s channel includes a dozen other Lego videos about the pandemic.) YouTube
As always, thanks for reading. Please do drop me a line if you spot something interesting, thought-provoking or cool happening on your campus, or elsewhere in the world!
Stay safe and be well,
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